A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this film explores the challenges that a family faces when their developmentally-disabled daughter fights for independence and reacts to her own growing sexuality. The filmmakers take great care to introduce the young lovers (both of whom are mentally impaired) to sex in a mature and sensitive way. There is some kissing and they begin to undress, but with no actual nudity or foreplay. Language includes some terms associated with the human reproductive system. "Doing it" is the only way sexual intercourse is described. A young woman is seen in bed with her female sexual partner, and their lesbianism provides a separate challenge to some members of the family. There is alcohol consumption in social settings, and the young male lead purposefully gets drunk on two occasions and misbehaves.
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- Kids say
What's the story?
After a decade in a special school for developmentally-disabled kids, Carla Tate (Juliette Lewis) comes home to her upper crust family in San Francisco. As Carla struggles to assert her independence and a strong desire to find her own path, her overprotective and often insensitive mother, Elizabeth (Diane Keaton), tries to keep her safe, quiet, and out of the public eye. Elizabeth believes she loves her husband and children, especially Carla, but guilt, embarrassment, and pride send her in the wrong direction at nearly every turn. Carla persists, however, and with her father and sisters on her side, is allowed to enroll in a trade school where she meets with measured success and encounters Daniel McMann (Giovanni Ribisi), another mentally-challenged student. Their initial friendship changes... they fall in love. This new intimacy and the prospect of Carla becoming an autonomous adult despite her limited capacities threaten Elizabeth's control and the entire family dynamic.
Is it any good?
Despite the vibrant performances of Juliette Lewis and Giovanni Ribisi and some touching scenes between the two, THE OTHER SISTER is predictable, sentimental, and very heavy-handed. Subtlety and nuance are nowhere to be found in Garry Marshall's direction, particularly notable in the performances of Diane Keaton and Tom Skerritt as Carla's father. Characters change positions in a flash and learn lessons instantaneously. What might have been grace notes (Daniel's love of marching bands and Carla's connection with animals) are instead hammered home at every opportunity. The only virtue is a skin-deep message about accepting differences and treating even "special" people with dignity.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about some of the different ways people react to Carla's disabilities. Discuss specific family members as well as outsiders.
Daniel seems to have almost no family support system. What resources did he use to make a surrogate family? What does that reveal about Daniel's ability to live on his own?
How did Elizabeth (Carla's mother) change over the course of the movie? How did what she learned from Carla help her be a better mother to Heather?
How accepting and tolerant do you think people are when they come across others who have disabilities or special needs? Do you think this movie depicted the general public accurately? Do you believe everyone at Caroline's wedding would have laughed at Daniel's speech? Think about how you would have reacted.